Think about all of the delays, obstructions and annoyances you encounter each workday. Have you ever stopped to think how many are caused directly or indirectly by skills gaps? It’s probably more than you think.
The largest threat to information technology (IT) is a lack of necessary skills. According to Global Knowledge’s “IT Skills and Salary Report,” skills gaps have risen 155% since 2016, currently impacting 79% of IT departments worldwide. And this problem is unlikely to go away on its own, as 68% of IT decision-makers anticipate new skills gaps to form in the next two years.
Whether it’s a result of passive management or employees who haven’t been set up for success, we have ignored the warning signs of skills gaps for too long. Issues caused by a lack of expertise have festered and worsened. The time to act is now.
Before we examine solutions, it’s important first to understand the wide-ranging impacts of IT skills gaps and the associated — and often overlooked — damage that can result.
How Skills Gaps Disrupt an Organization
IT skills gaps don’t interrupt only one aspect of a business. It’s increasingly obvious that they have a major impact on everything from operating costs to job satisfaction. It’s also clear that a lack of continuous learning is leading to a dearth of needed expertise. Without proper IT training and strategy, the following disruptions will grow and spread.
IT decision-makers say stress is the most common impact of skills gaps. The risk of employee burnout is real as the availability of skilled employees shrinks and workloads become unmanageable. While training is the obvious answer, many IT professionals struggle to find time during the workday to pursue professional development and develop new skills.
Lower Quality Outputs
Excellence is often the compromise when employees are stressed or overworked. How are IT professionals with outdated skill sets expected to consistently deliver value? When quality dips, they dedicate more time to solving problems than to innovation. Customer satisfaction levels can be impacted as well, resulting in lost business to competitors and decreasing revenue.
Don’t be surprised if staff members seek alternative employment when skills gaps impede their job performance. It’s not just about morale; if IT professionals believe their organization isn’t investing in their development, they’ll view it as a lack of support and will likely take their talents elsewhere.
With rising staff turnover, organizations risk losing not only critical skills but also institutional knowledge that will take years to replace — if they ever do. And those open positions are not easy to fill. Decision-makers are struggling to find qualified job candidates for high-priority IT roles.
Cybersecurity is the most challenging hiring area in IT. There aren’t enough skilled cybersecurity professionals to fill open positions, with (ISC)2 reporting a global shortage of 2.9 million cybersecurity professionals. That’s a frightening statistic, considering the immense pressure on organizations to keep customer data secure. As cyberattacks escalate in size and sophistication, the need for new and specialized security training intensifies. When these skills are absent and a data breach results, companies risk losing customers to a different platform or provider.
Delays in Launches and Migrations
It’s easy to lose ground to competitors or put high-value projects at risk when staff don’t have the necessary expertise. For high-stakes projects, such as a cloud migration, successful organizations are documenting new skill needs and establishing training plans prior to launch. Any major organizational shift also changes a team’s required competencies.
The skills of a project team impact the chance of project success. Make sure a percentage of a project’s budget is dedicated to training. Initial skill-building is crucial during the pre-launch phase of larger campaigns.
How to Prevent Skills Gaps
The antidote for skills gaps is simple: continual development. Learning must be as relentless as technology’s constant evolution. Organizations can’t expect IT professionals to keep pace if their skills are outdated.
However, there remain too many blockers of continual learning. Workloads, budgets, lack of manager or organizational support … plenty of factors can get in the way. Even with limited support or funding, there are ways to maximize training opportunities and ensure that IT professionals attain the needed skills. Here are a few:
Select the Appropriate Modality
Not all training formats are created equal. From e-learning to classroom training, all have benefits and disadvantages. Tools like the Skills Development Index can help you select the optimal training modality based on the skill’s value, priority and risk. First, define the criticality of the skill. If a high-priority project is on the line, interaction with a subject matter expert in a formal classroom setting is probably a good choice. For a lower-priority skill need, informal and social learning can be effective.
If the skill is tied to job performance or organizational success, a larger investment — of time and budget — is typically necessary. On-demand training may be more convenient and cost-effective, but it lacks the expert interaction that classroom training provides.
Maximize Your Budget
Too many training and IT leaders leave training dollars on the table. Global Knowledge research found that of IT decision-makers whose organizations provide access to formal training, only 59% approved training for their staff in 2019.
There are several tactics to maximize a training budget, even when immediate skill needs are unclear:
- Prepayment plans: Lock in a discounted training rate with an upfront payment. Prepaying protects you against surprise budget fluctuations and enables you to choose the course you need when you need it.
- Training credits: Many technology providers, such as Cisco, Citrix, Microsoft and VMware, offer training credits as a way to drive the value of a technology investment. Make sure you know whether your organization has them, because most have expiration dates.
- Group training: Private group training gathers an entire team in one location, allowing members to work together and ensuring that everyone is on the same page. This type of training is scalable, customizable and typically more cost-effective than public training courses.
- Special offers: Most training providers offer limited-time discounts, website exclusives and membership discounts. Be on the lookout for promotions, such as BOGO (buy-one-get-one) offers, to help stretch your budget even further.
Choose Your Training Partner Wisely
Your training provider should be a one-stop-shop for all your skill-building needs. An effective partner can help you identify the topics and technologies where the most opportunities exist to support your business’ success. Be sure to ask these questions of any training providers you evaluate:
- Do they offer all of the courses you need?
- Do they provide access to live subject matter experts?
- Do they work closely with technology providers?
- Do they have multiple delivery formats to choose from?
- How do they make your life easier?
It’s All About Skills
Sustained business success is depended on IT professionals’ continuous learning. Start with the critical skill needs for your team or organization, and seek expert-driven training. Skills gaps have been simmering, often in the background, as training opportunities and budgets have dwindled. Now, many decision-makers are realizing that a lack of training investment has resulted in two kinds of losses: profits and employees who left the company.
Don’t sacrifice quality, job satisfaction or security to save a few bucks. To eliminate skills gaps, it’s critical to invest more in your most valuable asset: your people. Build your people, and they’ll build your organization.